Flu Season: How to Keep Your Family Healthy

a family in bed with runny nosesKatie Zinicola, MSN, CPNP is a pediatric nurse practitioner with Commonwealth Emergency Physicians. Click here to learn more about Inova Urgent Care services and locations.

Preparing for Flu Season

While this time of year brings cool weather fun, it also brings influenza – other wise known as the flu. This dreaded virus can cause fever, cough, runny nose, nasal congestion, headache, sore throat, body aches, fatigue and occasionally vomiting and/or diarrhea. It is contagious and often warrants time off from school or work and a trip to the doctor’s office. In some cases, antiviral drugs will be prescribed.

While most people will recover from the flu without major complications, in some situations, the flu can cause secondary infections (e.g. pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and/or ear infections), hospitalizations, and even death. The elderly, young children, expectant mothers, and people with certain health conditions are at high risk of serious flu complications.

Here are a few tips to best protect yourself and your family from the flu:

1. Get a flu shot. Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the number one thing you can do to decrease your chance of getting the flu, decrease the severity of symptoms if you do get the flu, and help reduce the spread of the disease. Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a yearly flu shot for everyone 6 months and older (unless you have an allergy to the flu vaccine or one of its ingredients).

The flu vaccine can help save you or a loved one’s life. According to the CDC, 80 percent of flu deaths that occurred in children last year were in children who were not vaccinated. The AAP notes that if your child contracts the flu after vaccination, he or she is more likely to have less severe symptoms for a shorter duration and the risk of hospitalization is much lower.

Children 6 months to 8 years old need a two-dose series of the flu vaccine with the second dose administered four weeks after the first. This is recommended for those children being vaccinated for the first time and those who have only previously gotten one dose of the vaccine. Those children who have previously gotten two doses of vaccine (at any time) only need one dose of vaccine this season.

It’s a good idea to get routine immunizations like the flu vaccine at your primary care office so they can keep an up-to-date immunization record. If you’re not able to visit your primary care provider, the vaccine is available at all Inova Urgent Care Centers. Don’t forget to ask for a copy of your proof of vaccination to share with your primary care provider!

Myth-busters about the flu vaccine

– Myth: “The flu vaccine always gives me the flu.”
– Fact: The vaccine does not cause the flu.

The injectable vaccine contains an inactivated form of the virus that cannot cause the flu and the nasal spray vaccine contains a weakened flu virus that will not cause influenza. Mild side effects can result following vaccination and will resolve on their own after a few days.

It’s important to remember that flu season is also a time when many other viruses circulate. You can often catch a cold virus that yields similar, less severe symptoms to the flu, but it’s not actually influenza. It is also possible to be vaccinated too late. It takes about two weeks for your body to make antibodies against the flu after the vaccination. Be sure to get your vaccination before flu season begins and your body is exposed to the virus.

– Myth: “I’m not elderly or young and I’m healthy. I don’t need the flu vaccine.”
– Fact: A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

By getting the flu vaccine, you not only protect yourself from the flu – but you’re protecting those around you who may be at higher risk for serious flu complications (e.g. pregnant women, children, the elderly, the immunosuppressed, and those with chronic medical conditions).

2. Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze and encourage others to do the same.

3. Wash your hands and disinfect surfaces at home. It’s important to remember that the flu is very contagious. Washing your hands with warm soap and water reduces the spread of germs that cause the flu among objects and people. Disinfect surfaces in your home to prevent the spread of germs to other family members or friends.

4. Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes. Your hands come into contact with lots of germs every day. If you have a habit of touching your nose, mouth, or eyes, you bring those germs to your body’s front door.

5. Avoid contact with sick people if you are able.

6. Take care of your general health. Keep your immune system in good shape to fight off disease by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and keeping any chronic health issues under control.

7. If you or a loved one contracts the flu, follow these precautions to best prevent the spread of flu. When you have a fever, stay home from school or work and refrain from going out in public until it has been gone for 24 hours. You can also speak with your healthcare provider about antiviral medications; they may be a good option for your family if someone in your house gets the flu.

Need care right now?

Inova’s Urgent Care Centers are located throughout Northern Virginia.

For more information about the flu vaccine and this season’s recommended guidelines, visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) websites. 

Please note: Article content reviewed September 2019.

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